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Integrated Urban Water Management

Global changes are leading to increased demand for water and wastewater services, increased pollution, changes in land use and many other pressures in cities around the world. Some of the challenges include:

  • Climate change – increased rainfall intensities and temperatures, sea level rise and increased flooding, droughts and changing seasonality
  • Population growth and urbanisation – migration from rural to urban, loss of greenspace and peri-urban agriculture
  • Governance and policies – new institutional frameworks, political regimes, global policies
  • Deterioration of infrastructure systems – pipe breakage with water losses and wastewater leakage, rising operational costs
  • Changes in public priorities – basic economics versus environmental protection
  • Emerging technologies – membranes, natural systems, IT for monitoring and management, modular small-scale units
  • Energy costs – rising costs, intermittent supplies, GHG targets
  • Increasing complexity – dependencies on IT systems, inter-linkages between the water, energy and transport sectors

Water sector institutions must prepare themselves to cope with the on-going changes but also with future changes that are not known yet. They need to be more resilient and uncertainty needs to be included in planning and decision-making processes. Uncertainty requires strategic thinking, translated into strategic and flexible planning, rather than conventional blue-print planning. (Van der Steen et al. 2011)

Water resource management requires study of the whole water cycle. Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) is an approach that combines water supply, wastewater and stormwater and integrates these aspects into city planning. Integration is crucial, as a combination of measures which optimise individual aspects may result in harmful sub-optimisation for the system as a whole (Hellström et al., 2000). It promotes innovation in incorporating decentralized, natural and alternative solutions into existing urban water management systems.

Carol Howe has been helping the water industry and local governments to make the transition to more sustainable water systems. For the last five years she managed the SWITCH project that was guided by two main principles: demand-led research and sustainable, robust, flexible technologies. Central to the research undertaken within SWITCH was that it dealt with two key aspects of sustainability: the challenge of doing more with less and adaptability in the face of uncertain future conditions.

  • The final report from this project “Sustainable Water Management in the City of the Future – Findings from the SWITCH project 2006-2011” Howe, C., Butterworth, J., Smout, I.K., Duffy, A., and Vairavamoorthy, K. (2011), UNESCO-IHE, can be found at
  • Learning Alliances were key to the success of the project. More on learning alliances can be found in the NOWRA/WEF (2010) report “Learning Alliances – The SWITCH Approach to Catalyse Change” Howe, C and Butterworth, J. on the SWITCH website and also on the SWITCH training site
  • Strategic planning was the foundation for integration. More on this process can be found in “Managing Water in the City of the Future, strategic planning and science” Van der Steen P, Howe C (2009). Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology, 8:115-120

Carol has also been active with the International Water Association’s Cities of the Future (CoF) programme. A key publication from their CoF series that summarise the state of the knowledge in this area is “Water Sensitive Cities” Howe, C. and Mitchell, C (2012) IWA Publishing. For more on CoF see

Bringing together multiple disciplines to work together in an integrated fashion is always a challenge. Some insights on this topic can be found in“Communicating across the disciplinary divide – are we bridging the gap?” Howe, C., Water Sensitive Cities, IWA, 97-106

Before SWITCH, Carol Howe directed the Australian Government’s (CSIRO's) Urban Water and Future Cities Research programmes that brought together researchers from the water, energy, transport and building sectors to work in a more integrated and holistic fashion. As strategic planning manager for Sydney Water she helped develop the long-term strategic plan for the organisation’s water, wastewater and stormwater assets called “WaterPlan 21”

Other reports or papers by Carol Howe include:

  • Kenway, S. J., Howe, C. and Maheepala, S. (2007), “Triple Bottom Line Reporting of Sustainable Water Utility Performance, Guidebook prepared for the American Water Works Association Research Foundation
  • Howe, C and van der Steen, P. (2008), “SWITCH – A Systems Approach to Urban Water Management”, INCOSE 2008, Systems Engineering for the Planet, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • S. Maheepala, M. Evans, A. Sharma, S. Gray and C. Howe (2004) “Assessing Water Service Provision Scenarios Using the Concept of Sustainability”, International Water Association Leading Edge Conference, Sydney, Australia
  • Howe, C. and White, S. (1999), “Integrated Resource Planning for Water and Wastewater - Sydney Case Studies”, Water International, Vol 24, No 4. 356-362.
  • Howe, C., Sherb, M., and Hansen, J. (2002) “Sustainable Water Services – Sydney’s Getting Smart About Growth”, OzWater, Sydney, Australia
  • Day, D. and Howe, C., (2002) 'Forecasting Peak Demand - What Do We Need to Know?' Proceedings of the International Water Association Congress, Melbourne, Australia,
  • Chanan, V., White, S., Jha, M., & Howe, C. (2003) 'Sustainable Water Management in Commercial Office Buildings' Innovations in Water: Ozwater, Perth, Australia